Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The Washington, DC Prison Experiment

Jerry Stratton, April 21, 2009

I agree with the Ace of Spades commenters who said that if this had been their daughter, there would be injured school officials and an imprisoned parent. When did strip-searching children for medicine they can buy over the counter on the tip of a single other classmate become acceptable?

This isn’t an isolated incident. I first saw a version of it reported in May of 2004, when Maryland’s Kent County High School called in the police to strip-search students based on the smell of their schoolbooks. The only thing isolated is that this time the student and the parent kept up their legal fight.

Public schools are a real-world version of the Stanford prison experiment. Students are imprisoned into schools, school authorities are given vast power over them, and any attempt at escape must be put down—even programs such as the Washington, DC, school voucher program. So what if the DC voucher program helps underprivileged children excel at learning? Learning isn’t the purpose of public schools. Power is.

In an arbitrary forced imprisonment like our government-run near-monopoly on schools, this kind of abuse is inevitable. It’s the same mindset that convinces school officials that mass murder drills—without telling the students it’s a drill—is a legitimate school function. The drug war was the catalyst, but something like this is inevitable when any alternatives are forcefully shut down.

October 23, 2019: Why is it so difficult to hold schools accountable?
Round Rock High School report card: Report card for Round Rock, Texas, High School.; high school; Round Rock

This is part of what a Texas school accountability rating looks like.

Thinking about the backhanded Occupy Democrat campaign for school choice reminded me that back in January, I was at a presentation where Monty Exter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, expressed confusion about why it is so difficult to tell when a teacher is doing well compared to other industries. At the same time, he complained about relying on standardized tests to measure student outcome, in order to determine whether the teachers are teaching well.

Of course, the reason it’s harder to acknowledge merit in education compared to other industries is that parents cannot pull their dollars from a failing school and transfer them to a successful school.

There are a lot of teachers who complain, justifiably, about too much paperwork, especially standardized tests. They’re a one-size-fits-all mechanism that can’t be customized to the classroom or the student.

But failing the ability to do what they’d do for any other industry failing their children—switch to someone who isn’t failing—parents will demand some form of testing. Testing is a substitute for accountability. Accountability can only come when students and parents are free to take their money and go elsewhere. But because parents don’t have that choice, they ask for substitutes. Testing tries to simulate accountability in a monopoly. Unless you want to give parents the ability to fire public school teachers, standardized testing is the only substitute for choice.

The reason parents demand one-size-fits-all testing is that school administrators and union administrators demand one-size-fits-all schools. Parents can’t choose where to send their kids without paying twice, so they demand some other form of accountability. Sadly, simulating accountability in government schools will probably work about as well as simulating accountability in government health care. It is very difficult to ensure that a monopoly is accountable. Monopolies cater to the bureaucrats who control the checkbook, not the taxpayers who pay into it. As with doctors and hospitals, only choice makes schools accountable. Only pluralistic schools are accountable, and they are accountable because they are accountable directly to the parents. In a system of choice, it is the parents who control the money.

This is what accountability looks like: I hire the school to teach my children. If they don’t do a good job teaching my children I fire them and hire someone else.

  1. <- Tax individuals
  2. The President’s freelancers ->